If you have been following this series you will know that it is a dive into my family history, concentrating on the role of my deceased Grandmother who lived to almost 105 years old. If you would like to catch up you can here, here, here and here.
In the last entry in this saga, I was describing the sleepovers at the Grandparents house. Without hyperbole, I tell you that these are among the finest moments of my childhood. I had left off with the need to go to bed early when I slept over because the next morning at the breakfast table always proved to be the highlight of the day and I needed to be rested for it.
My Grandmother was a saint on earth, she really was. She had so many wonderful qualities about her. Unfortunately, a sense of humor was not one of them. In this sense, she married the wrong man. Mel was a tireless jokester and he loved an audience.
Breakfast was always at 8 AM. I would wake before that to the smell of bacon. Even if bacon wasn’t on the menu. Marion cooked everything in bacon fat and a black skillet. Everything she cooked smelled like bacon. As an aside, isn’t it incredible that she lived to that age cooking with only bacon drippings from a Chock Full O’Nuts coffee can? I would usually come downstairs when I smelt breakfast or heard her clanging around. Sleepy-eyed, I would come into the kitchen and get a warm greeting from her. My Grandfather would never come to the kitchen until he was called. He would putter around in the basement in the morning or watch the news in the living room which was a mere 15 feet from the kitchen. He knew the coffee was brewed and breakfast was done but when I was there he insisted on being called…nay screamed for. Marion would call him once or twice and he would ignore her. When she yelled, that was his cue and the show was about to begin. He would then walk into the tiny kitchen with his famous devilish grin, in his pajama bottoms, a worn wife-beater, and slippers and say “what are you yelling for, I’m right here!?” Marion would shoot him a look for being a smartass. That’s when he would wink at me with those wicked eyes and his trademark bushy eyebrows. Yay, I would think, the show’s about to start!
The show didn’t always begin the same way. Sometimes he would start stacking cups and saucers precariously high and wait to get yelled at. Other times he would put salt in her Marion’s sugar bowl. Sometimes he would each behind him and put the creamer back in the refrigerator and then ask her why there’s no cream for his coffee. Other times he would just start off by acting deaf. No matter how it began, it ended with him being yelled at and a playful wink in my direction. Marion was fussing to make everything just right for me and he did everything he could to mess it up. Marion, God bless her fell for the bait every time. This apparently happened when my mom was little also and she never really caught on. It was her drive to make everything “just right” that caused her frustration, I wish she found it half as funny as her husband and I did.
After breakfast, Mel would retreat to the basement where he shaved in an old sink with a straight razor. His show was over, now it was me and Grandma time. They didn’t have much of a yard for me to play in and they lived on a very busy street so I was usually inside. Her routine became mine. I helped her clean up from breakfast, including the occasional broken saucer that her menace of a husband broke when balancing it on his head or spinning it on a spoon, drained her black skillet into the famous coffee can and then the day began.
Marion was not much of a house cleaner despite her obsessive tendencies. Her table, earlier cleared for the breakfast debacle, was immediately covered with 86 pounds of clutter that was moved to the fourth, unused chair. She was a hoarder before it was a thing. She made enough room each day to do her letters. Her letters are a lasting memory, both due to how outdated the whole “mail” thing is now and how much of a part of her life they were. She wrote to everyone and she absolutely lived to get mail in return. When the mailman came she moved like a hyperactive child to that mailbox. She kept in touch with High School friends and she had a large family in California. Sadly, I have not met most of them. Christmas cards and letters were the highlight of her year. I would be subjected to her reading her letters to me from people I didn’t know yet she continued to act as if I did. I regret being annoyed at that now, she really loved to share her mail with me. It occurs to me that she would hate today’s lightning fast, impersonal communications. An email would never bring her the joy that opening a card that she would read 20 times and keep 20 years.
If I was lucky, they would take me to the Senior Center in the afternoon. They were always old, as far back as I can remember. Maybe they were the youngest ones in the group but they ran with the older crowd. The Senior center had Bingo for her, multiple widows to flirt with my dapper grandfather, and a bunch of people that just loved seeing me. To be fair, I loved them. I have always enjoyed talking to the elderly. They had such stories to tell and I really enjoyed them. It wouldn’t surprise me if I found that I was immediately good in History class because of all of the Vets that I talked to and all of the women who did their share to keep this great country running during the war.
This routine would carry on into my early teens. Marion and I were inseparable. I was her “Dear Billy” and her pride in me helped me through my awkward teenage years of hormones, bullies and finding myself. She was non-judgemental and always there with a Root Beer Float and a hug.